- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

Iran has arrested a fourth Iranian-American as part of a crackdown on what it calls an international espionage ring, the State Department confirmed yesterday.

Separately, the family and colleagues of Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars analyst Haleh Esfandiari offered fresh details of her plight in a notorious Tehran prison, where she has been held since her May 8 arrest on unspecified charges of spying and “endangering national security through propaganda” against the Islamic republic.

Mrs. Esfandiari’s husband, George Mason University historian Shaul Bakhash, said Evin prison authorities have blocked attorneys and relatives from seeing his wife.

At one point, prison guards refused to accept a package of prescription medicine for Mrs. Esfandiari, saying the drugs were stocked in the prison pharmacy.

Mr. Bakhash said his wife was allowed a single, monitored phone call once a day to her ailing mother in Tehran — the only known contact she has had with the outside world since her detention.

“If the phone calls last more than a minute, if they last 90 seconds, her mother is ecstatic,” he said.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey confirmed yesterday that California businessman Ali Shakeri was taken into custody by Iranian officials sometime last week and was being held at Evin prison. Mr. Shakeri, who has dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, serves on the board of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California at Irvine.

The center confirmed that he was in Iran and had not been in contact since March.

Iranian intelligence officials in recent weeks also have detained social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh and Parnaz Azima, a journalist with the U.S.-funded Persian-language Radio Farda, on espionage charges. The charges could bring the death sentence under Iran’s Islamic Shariah law.

The United States has not had diplomatic ties with Tehran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and has been pursuing the cases through the Swiss government, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

U.S. officials have been critical of what Mr. Casey yesterday called a “disturbing pattern” by Iran’s government to “harass innocent people.”

“It’s simply absurd to be charging them with espionage or other kinds of activities that are supposedly a threat to the Iranian government,” he said.

Former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, director of the Wilson Center, said the center’s Middle East programs, which Mrs. Esfandiari oversaw, had received no money from a $75 million “democracy fund” set up by the Bush administration to promote political reform in Iran.

He acknowledged that the debate inside the U.S. government over the need for “regime change” in Tehran had “muddied the waters” for U.S.-Iranian scholars and activists in their dealings in Iran.

Mr. Bakhash had one bit of good news: Citibank had unfrozen bank accounts held in his wife’s name. Citing U.S. sanctions against Iran, the bank had briefly blocked the accounts because Mrs. Esfandiari was now a “resident” of Tehran during her time in jail.

“Two very senior bank executives called to apologize,” he said.

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